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Using language to drive clarity in thought

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Using language to drive clarity in thought

"So we want to discuss how the SEs, AEs, and AR can be working with the Partner Team to optimize our To-/Through-/With- Marketing strategies, aligned to our BGs, regions, SMEs, and Corp Defined Objectives."

This jumble of acronyms, lingo and jargon is what passes as communication by today’s standards. Communication is further complicated by remote workers, misaligned executives, and the everchanging landscape that is the status quo for your average tech company. In order to reduce the number of NASTYs (Needless Acronyms Stifling Teams and You) and actually have a discussion with the appropriate context, you need a common taxonomy. For every taxonomy, there are two key components: a common definition set and means for exchanging ideas. Creating a clear taxonomy is a complicated process no matter the subject, due to multiple definitions, confusion about context and differences regarding what is most important. In a business environment, increased difficulty arises when discussing intricate business and economic concepts polluted with the noise of buzzwords and waylaid through the natural evolution of terms and processes. 

A clear and precise taxonomy should be used as the basis for effective communications in and across organizations. Every taxonomy consists of four core concepts:

  1. Foundation: Set baseline understanding around the definition and purpose 
  2. Framing: Determine guiding principles for framing the key structure
  3. Fundamentals: Define your terms and how they are used
  4. Fit: Test the efficacy and accuracy of terms and principles

This blog focuses on the first two elements, setting a foundation and framing your taxonomy. Our blog next week will bring the taxonomy home with the most difficult part, defining your fundamentals and testing the fit. 


Setting a foundation may seem like an simple process, but without a plan it can get messy quick. In short, get people to agree a taxonomy solves a specific problem and set the boundaries of the topic to be defined. The first step is to get a rough idea of what the finished product will look like, and while this seems daunting when looking at a blank sheet, it will always have some basics: Purpose and Definition. Purpose is driven purely by need - "What is the pain point this solves?" Definition should be easy from here - "What will this do to solve the pain point?" With these two elements, you have answered two of the most common questions you will hear moving forward "What is the value in this?" and "How will this make a difference?"

Related: The problem with strategy – get a vocabulary that works


Now that you have a foundation, it is time to start framing your concepts, providing your idea a structure and methodology for expanding it. Your definition drove you to the "what," now it is time to flesh out "what it is not." This is done with Guiding Principles, which are generally done best in question form. The key concept in this is drawing a line between "Yes" and "Kinda." By asking these Yes/No questions I am not making a decision tree, where every outcome is defined. The only paths are:

  1. If all answers are a "Yes," you know definitively you have a relevant term
  2. If you get a "No," it does not need to be defined

If you have a question that could be answered with “Both”/’Kinda”/”Maybe” then this is a bad guiding question.

When developing your own Guiding Principles make sure they delineate four key areas:

  1. What is the goal of your taxonomy? Is your taxonomy defining a process, defining a lifecycle, creating a distinction among scenarios?
  2. Does your taxonomy exclude concepts? What is similar but not included?
  3. Has a term been defined by others? Is that definition lacking in precision or out of date?
  4. Is there segmentation within your taxonomy? Have those terms been clearly defined?

With these two defined, we have covered the basics of building a working structure to start adding your fundamentals in and testing how they fit. This process will be covered in a blog next week, “Using a framework to define key elements.”

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